|Lewis McDonald and Joel Horwood in "Holding the Man".
Written by Tommy Murphy – Directed by Jarrad West
Lighting design by Nathan Sciberras – Sound Design by
Costume design by Fiona Leach – Music composed by Alexander
ACT Hub : 23rd March to 1st April 2023.
Opening night performance reviewed by Bill Stephens.
It has taken quite a long time for a production of
Queanbeyan playwright Tommy Murphy’s break-out play “Holding the Man” to be
given a Canberra production. However,
the timing could hardly have been better given the attention on gay
relationships as a result of the recent World Pride celebrations in Sydney, and
the current streaming by the ABC of a four-part series, “In Our Blood”, which
tells a very similar story.
Tommy Murphy’s adaptation of NIDA Graduate, Timothy
Conigrave’s memoir detailing his 15 year love affair with footballer, John Caleo, which
ended when Caleo died of AIDS, premiered at the Griffin Theatre in Sydney in
2006. The play became the highest-grossing production in Griffin Theatre's 30-year
history, and has since won multiple awards and been produced successfully
around Australia and overseas.
In Jarrad West’s Brechtian production for Everyman Theatre,
Joel Horwood gives a brilliantly sustained performance as Timothy Conigrave; young, flighty and impetuous at high school; not understanding his attraction for the handsome young athlete, but determined
to advance it. Then later, more mature
and thoughtful about their relationship while keen to explore opportunities for
other relationships in pursuit of his career in theatre. .
Equally impressive, Lewis
McDonald matches Horwood with his insightful
portrayal of John Caleo, firstly, a reserved young athlete equally interested in pursuing their
relationship. Then as the play progresses, as a trainee chiropractor planning on opening a practice, and unwilling to face the
possibility of his career being jeopardised
by having his sexuality exposed.
How the pair negotiate their relationship among family,
friends and the vicissitudes of life forms the grist of the play, which reaches
its climax with the inevitable death of John Caleo.
|Lewis McDonald (obscured) - Joel Horwood - Tracy Noble - Amy Kowalczuk
in "Holding the Man".
Joe Dinn, Amy Kowalzcuk, Grayson Woodham and Tracy Noble
provide admirable support creating the veritable army of family, friends and
associates who pass through the lives of Conigrave and Caleo, particularly for
their primary characters. However, one can only wonder if the play would have
been more affecting had they dug a little deeper and avoided the temptation to chase cheap laughs
by creating caricatures more appropriate to satirical revue rather than relatable characters, particularly
in the early parts of the play.
Similarly, given that attitudes towards homosexuality have
changed considerably since Murphy wrote this play, his dialogue remains as
powerful, uncompromising and confronting as when it was written. One wonders, therefore, at the necessity for
the inclusion of unnecessarily explicit business which seemed to detract from
the delicacy of the play. The over-long group masturbation scene immediately
comes to mind.
Never-the-less, although this production is not as finessed
as we have come to expect from Everyman Theatre, with several scenes played on
the floor which were invisible to much of the audience, it is still an imaginative
attempt to do justice to an important play which, to an audience still battling
with a current pandemic, remains a potent reminder of a previous horror which cut
a deadly swathe through some of the country’s most creative individuals.
Hero image: Eva Schroder - Group image: Janelle McMenamin and Michael Moore
This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. www.artsreview.com.au